In praise of pedalling

I’d be the first to admit I’m not the fastest thing on two wheels (if God had meant this to be, I’d have been born Belgian, and have at least one ‘x’ in my name), but I’d be prepared to wager if not a king’s ransom then at least a prince’s pocket-money that there were few happier cyclists in all of sunny Northants this afternoon.

It was good to discover that I can still manage to cover modest distances (about 7 miles, if anyone’s counting) without collapsing in a sweaty, pink wheezing heap.¬†Encouraging also to discover that there’s at least one half-way decent pub just far enough away to make getting there pleasingly thirst-raising…admittedly it might have been even more pleasant to have immediately put this to the test, but having left home with naught but keys in my pocket that’ll have to wait for next time.

Best of all, though, was just the sheer pleasure to be gained from progressing slowly through the countryside on a sunny afternoon, a delight for all the senses.

Well, honesty compels me to admit, almost all the senses. I can’t vouch for taste, not having eaten (or even licked) anything, apart possibly from the odd unwary insect, and they never taste of anything much.¬†Now I come to think of it, touch was a bit equivocal too…there’s something pleasingly tactile about steering in such a direct way, and changing gear is also satisfyingly mechanical and direct, but I’ve been meaning to get a new saddle for ages. Enough said.

A delight for at least three of the senses, then. I’m lucky enough to live in a moderately picturesque corner of the country – once you get off the main roads virtually every prospect pleases. (In passing I note with interest how drastically one’s sense of scale can alter with speed; what seems like a pleasing set of minor undulations when hurtled over by car expands to fill the entire horizon and demands a good deal more respect when traversed on two wheels rather than four, powered only by distressingly flabby muscles)

There’s a good deal of olfactory stimulation to be had around this time of year as well – all sorts of mingled flowery scents wafting about. Not all are completely pleasant – white-thorn has a distinctly strange musk, I find, and I’m not a great fan of Oilseed Rape either – but it’s more work than my nose often gets.

The thing that I really noticed this afternoon, however, was how delightful it was to be making my way so quietly – apart, obviously, from the laboured gasping ocassioned by anything more than the gentlest of upward gradients. Quietly enough to really enjoy the bird-song, the breeze through the leaves…even quiet enough to hear, amongst the faint bleats of alarm and thump of hoof on solid loam, the grass rustling against the sheep’s legs as they put a safe distance between us. Why this should be so satisfying, I don’t really know, but can only report that it made my afternoon.

You could argue that walking is even quieter, and you’d be right. I don’t know if it’s just me, however, but I tend to find the relatively slower speed of walking often makes for a more ‘inward’ experience. There’s not enough outwardly changing to hold the attention unless one makes an effort, so it’s easier to drift into one’s thoughts and end up being less aware of one’s surroundings.

Get on a bike, though, and the balance is just about right – or so it seemed this afternoon – progressing with enough speed to keep things constantly changing around you, but not so fast that it all becomes a blur, and quietly enough (on the level and down hill bits, at least) that you can hear what’s going on.

It was all most relaxing, and I’m happy to relate that the whole episode ended without the distressing language and sundry bumping noises previously attendant on my returning home with my bike…and having to drag it up two flights of stairs. We’ve had a couple of nifty brackets fitted in the hall downstairs. Securing my cycle is now a quick and painless proceedure…and quiet enough not to startle a sheep.

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